By Paul R. La Monica
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — McDonald’s debuted a new television commercial over the weekend that highlighted some of the many messages shown on the restaurant’s signs under its trademark Golden Arches.
The signs, which featured references to 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing and the explosion of the Columbia space shuttle as well as more personal events like wedding anniversaries and birth announcements, were lauded by industry experts as uplifting but were largely panned by critics on social media.
“I thought the ad was awesome. It’s clear that all the billboards were real. It was demonstrating that McDonald’s is Americana,” said Steve McKee, president of McKee Wallwork + Company Advertising, an ad agency based in Albuquerque.
To that end, McDonald’s also has the stories behind the signs featured in the commercial on its Tumblr site.
This ad pairs with another new spot that includes animated versions of adversaries finding a common interest in McDonald’s, including the Joker and Batman, Gargamel and the Smurfs and fans of the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears.
“McDonald’s is working very hard to rebuild its brand. Over the past couple of years it has taken a ton of hits. This new signs ad is incredibly heartwarming,” said Tim Calkins, marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
But others felt that the ad, which aired prominently during NFL playoff games Sunday afternoon as well as the Golden Globes award telecast Sunday night, was insensitive.
“Maybe instead of making that horrifyingly cynical #GoldenGlobes commercial, McDonald’s could pay employees a living wage? #ImNotLovingIt,” tweeted comedian Eugene Mirman.
“The McDonalds commercial that wants us to thank them for changing their signs during national tragedies is more tasteless than the McRib,” added Mike Polk, Jr.
The company said in a statement that the commercial “has sparked commentary from consumers, and we’re happy to see that. It is part of our campaign to listen more and have a deeper conversation with our customers, and this ad is achieving that.”
“We’ve seen some strong praise and some negative comments. We expect that, and we welcome it. We’ll continue to challenge ourselves to push boundaries in connecting with our customers,” McDonald’s added.
There were some positive reactions to the ad on Twitter, but they appeared to come mainly from ad agency types.
“Everyone is freaking out about the @McDonalds commercial. I don’t get what the big deal is; they made a great ad that humanized a mega corp.,” tweeted Jack DeManche, a strategist for Boston firm Allen & Gerritsen.
But will the ads actually work? Will people who’ve shunned McDonald’s lately actually start going back for their fill of Big Macs?
The company’s sales have slumped lately. And the stock has lagged the market. Part of that is due to an image that the food is unhealthy, as some folks pointed out on Twitter.
This “Carry On” McDonalds commercial has a nice sentiment, too bad their product does damn well in stopping you from carrying on,” tweeted Nathaniel Edwards, referring to the choir of children singing the song “Carry On” by the pop group Fun. in the commercial.
Ok @McDonalds your commercial was heartwarming and all but your food still killing Americans. I’m just saying,” added Pharaoh Miller.
But other restaurant chains serving fatty foods are doing extremely well lately. So McDonald’s has a bigger problem than just concerns about health. That’s why Calkins thinks the company is smart to go the sentimental route with its new ads and remind everyone of what an icon it is.
“This is not going to get people running into McDonald’s today. Over time, it could help but the company is going to have to be patient,” he said. “But only McDonald’s could do something like this. You wouldn’t see Wendy’s, Burger King or Chipotle run this type of ad.”
CNNMoney’s Molly Shiels contributed to this report.